Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Udon: Ahoy!

“Wee-I-Pee”, I say, enunciating each syllable with care. I fork over my 80 baht ($2) and get on the bus back home. I almost missed it, I thought. Carefully dodging the women who’d boarded to sell roasted chickens, I look for a seat. Only one available, next to a young woman, dressed neatly for a Sunday. I lean into the seat and sit down, taking notice of her outfit. Black slacks, formal shoes, and a red blouse. Across her chest, written in large black letters, “Life Ain’t Nothin’ But Bitches and Money.”

Stifling a laugh, I pull the blanket over me. Thais don’t mess around with the air conditioning. I’m not sure yet which is worse- freezing or burning my balls off, but for two years I’ve been periodically rotating between the two and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to have children. There was already a movie in progress, which is great because I haven’t seen a Jackie Chan movie in at least a few days.

Interesting, this movie is an actual Thai movie, so I don’t have to listen to awkward voice-overs. And it’s apparently about pirates, which is so wildly original I barely notice that the ticket-taker has made his way back to my seat.

Getting the bus to stop at my house is always difficult, because the drivers rarely know where my village is. So I have a prepared statement explaining exactly at which gas station to stop the bus, before what major stop, how many kilometers, etc. I’ve said it roughly two million times in the past two years, but it hasn’t gotten much easier. The first go-around, the ticket-taker will stare at me, puzzled that I’m speaking Thai, and forget to actually listen to anything I was saying. Which is reflective of my life, actually. Probably 80% of my first words to people are followed by, “What?”

“Where are you getting off?” he asks the woman sitting next to me. “Kao-Sang-Kwan”, she answers. The town next to mine. “Where is your husband’s ticket?” he asks. This is exactly why I don’t sit next to women on buses. Heaven forbid a white man travel alone in this country. “I’m going to Nam Phong,” I said as she blushes. “Alone”. “And I need to get off at blah, blah, blah.” He grunts and turns his back to take more tickets.

Udon is a city known for it’s falang population. It used to be an American Air Force base and still sports relics of the Vietnam War: fighter jets, VOA, and old, bald men with wives doubling as granddaughters. This very day, I had eaten lunch at a restaurant while a man with a tattoo of a lawnmower on his bald-spot stood reading an advertisement for an all-natural alternative to Viagra.

Sure enough, the ticket-taker turns to another falang, and having learnt his lesson, asks his young Thai wife where she and her husband are going. She gives him both their tickets and the ticket-taker moves on, having proved, as if it needed proving, that I am an idiot.

The audio/visual systems put in these buses are amazing. You will watch and listen to the movie playing, whether you like it or not. No conversations, no sleeping, nothing except you appreciating exactly how powerful these speakers kick. I imagine the driver and his rig are big hits in the local high school parking lot.

When Joe McGinn visited last year, he was impressed with Thais for putting up with this. Thais like action and horror movies, so you’re either being woken up by machine-gun fire or by five year olds screaming in terror while people are mutilated with a chainsaw. And the Thais just sit there and take it, too respectful to get up and tell the driver, “Hey maybe 2am isn’t the best time to be showing a Steven Segal movie”. Then again, when is?

Today’s movie, like I said, is about pirates. English pirates, actually, who have mobilized the Chinese to enslave the Thais. And the main falang character is now molesting a 10 year old. So that’s just great. I look back to see what the other falang thinks of this, but he and his wife are busy miming at each other, and aren’t watching the movie.

At Kao-Sang-Kwan, the woman next to me gets off, and I stretch out a little. The movie concludes with the Thais on the island expelling the English pedophiles by firing homemade rockets at their ship. As the injured vessel sails off into the setting sun, the credits start to roll. And, holy shit, there goes my stop.

I run up to the front of the bus yelling at the driver to stop the bus. I look crossly at the ticket-taker sitting next to him, who evidently didn’t tell him someone was getting off there. He steps on the brakes, and while the bus gently rolls to a stop, I exit. Just as the doors are closing behind me, I hear the driver say to the ticket-taker, “He’s very talented, traveling without his wife like that.”

I adjust my backpack, switching the cat litter to my left hand, and with the sun at my back, begin my walk home.

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